How Yankees' Tyler Austin's new fish tale could become a year of misery

TAMPA -- Tyler Austin showed up for Yankees spring training ahead of most of his teammates, 2 1/2 weeks early. His plan was to get himself as ready as possible to keep the Yankees' plan for first base in 2017 intact, a spring battle with Greg Bird for...

How Yankees' Tyler Austin's new fish tale could become a year of misery

TAMPA -- Tyler Austin showed up for Yankees spring training ahead of most of his teammates, 2 1/2 weeks early.

His plan was to get himself as ready as possible to keep the Yankees' plan for first base in 2017 intact, a spring battle with Greg Bird for a starting job. A worse-case scenario, other than an injury, seemed to be the Yankees opting for a platoon in which the lefty-swinging Bird would start against right-handed starters and the righty-swinging Austin would face lefties.

WATCH: Sanchez takes BP, works on catching

A day of fishing in Tampa Bay on Feb. 6 ruined everything.

"I was fishing out in the little canal out there and then saw it," Austin shared a week later after a Monday workout at the Yankees' minor-league complex. "Somebody messaged me and said, 'Hey, the Yankees just signed Chris Carter.' I looked on Twitter and saw it and said, 'OK, that's fine.' Then I went right back to fishing."

That's fine? Not a chance.

Yankees' Tyler Austin fields grounders

Carter bats right, plays first base and tied for the National League home run title last season with 41.

Austin flashed his power late last season, too, by going deep five times in 83 at-bats after his first big-league call-up, but he has two minor-league options remaining. Thus with Carter onboard at $3.5 million for a year, it sure seems like Austin, a 25-year-old rookie from Georgia, went from being a good bet to opening the season with the Yankees to being ticketed for Triple-A.

Austin "tried to" take the news of Carter's signing out on the fish, but "didn't catch any that day. I don't know what that means."

Well, you can't blame Austin if he feels played by the Yankees ... hook, line and sinker.

No matter, Austin is saying the right things and trying to do what he can to position himself for another opportunity with the Yankees.

"I think (Carter) is going to help the team and I'm going to go into the spring trying to do everything I can to make the team any way that I can ... whether that's at first, third, left, right, utility."

AL scout on 2017 Yankees

Third?

Uh huh.

Austin mostly has been a first baseman and right fielder since the Yankees took him in the 13th round of the 2010 draft, but he's started 35 games at third base, including three in Triple-A last season.

Wanting to make himself more versatile, he's been taking grounders at the hot corner in pre-spring training workouts and -- who knows? -- maybe he'll someday hit and field his way into being a possible successor at third to Chase Headley, who is only halfway through a four-year, $52-million contract but a candidate to be moved.

"It's good to have that (third base) option, so that's why I've been over there taking groundballs," Austin said.

Aaron Judge hits during workout

Austin's bat is his strength. He hit his way to the majors last season after starting the year in Double-A and showed a lot of promise as a Yankee. He and Aaron Judge were called up from Triple-A on Aug. 17, then made history together that day when they hit back-to-back homers in their first at-bats.

No teammates had ever homered in the same game when debuting let alone do it in consecutive at-bats.

Austin had another big moment in September with a walk-off homer against Tampa Bay.

His final Yankees stats were good and bad ... the five homers and 12 RBIs over 31 games impressive, his .241 average with 36 strikeouts in 83 at-bats not so good.

Also impressive was Austin's numbers at Yankee Stadium: A .300 average with all five of his homers ... four to right field and one to right-center.

"My approach is right-center field, so when you've got a little shorter porch out there, it gives you a lot more confidence," Austin said.

2016 was a big confidence builder for Austin, who had missed a lot of time in previous seasons with injuries. His status as a prospect dropped to the point where the Yankees took him off their 40-man roster in September 2015.

Who should stay and who should go

Management likes him again, but ultimately opted to add a more-sure thing in Carter, whose power is countered by a bunch of strikeouts, an NL high 206 last season.

As for Austin, he's still hoping against hope to be a big fish in the Yankees' lineup this season.

"You know what? I'm just going to go in and try to have fun," he said. "I'm not going to worry about what I can't control. Just go out and play the game the way that I know how to play it and enjoy it, because this is a big opportunity."

Randy Miller may be reached at rmiller@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RandyJMiller. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

 

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